13th May2013

Panel Discussion #005 with Jack and Mark

by Mark Allen

JandM-Comics

8th May 2013

Batman #20, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, DC Comics

It’s taken me some time to come around to Scott Snyder’s run on Batman but now I’m fully on board. I couldn’t stand the Court of Owls plotline when I first read it, but since then, I’ve made a real U-turn on my Snyder-based opinions. I have always rather liked Greg Capullo’s art on the book. The recent Death of the Family storyline managed to take a fairly gimmicky set up and create something effective with actual emotional resonance. At the moment though, we’re pretty much treading water with Batman until the duo’s Zero Year arc begins next month (which, in spite of everything, I’m cautiously optimistic about, which speaks volumes for the amount of trust Snyder has garnered from me).

This is the second of a two part arc starring Clayface, one of the more inexplicably popular Batman villains. Without wanting to sound too damning, the books feel like they’ve been put out to keep the fans happy rather than to serve any greater story purposes.
Similarly, the nod to Batman Beyond in this issue feels like fan-service. In addition, the machinations of the plot, which sees Clayface imitating Bruce Wayne in order to, uh, cause havoc and do crimes, mean that we’re now expected to believe that Lucius Fox, Commissioner Gordon and most of the Gotham City Police Department are stupid enough to not realise that Batman is Bruce Wayne. The dumbasses.

Still, the art remains great and there’s some decent work done with the death of Damian (not that that helps with the possible compromising of secret identities). The backup story, Ghost Lights by James Tynion IV and Alex Maleev is also kind of fun, if, indeed, light and features Batman and Superman sorting out some paranormal activity.

Batman and Red Hood #20, Peter J Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Cliff Richards, DC Comics

Since the aforementioned death of Damian, the Batman and Robin book has begun a rotating cast of sidekicks with Red Robin last month, Batgirl next and Red Hood this issue. Carrie Kelly from The Dark Knight Returns has also cropped up again, though what her role will be in the long term is unclear. It’s hard to see them shoehorning her into the Robin role in this continuity and it would seem that the Harper Row character introduced in Batman is better suited anyway, but we haven’t seen her in a while. Anyway, this ish sees Batman hanging out with Jason Todd in a fairly chummy way (after the events of previous Red Hood and the Outlaws books), kicking arse and setting things straight before having a big argument and obligatory hero-on-hero punch up.

I’m a fan of Jason Todd, particularly in the New 52 continuity and it’s interesting to see how his relationship with Batman has evolved after recent events. Again, some of the content of the book feels gimmicky but Tomasi is smart enough to add relevance and a level of interest to the thing. It’s like buying a packet of cereal for the free toy inside but then enjoying having an additional bowl full of delicious and nutritious breakfast fodder more than the freebie. Or something like that. Do you even get free toys in cereal anymore? I don’t know.

Of the two Bat-books this month, I much preferred this one, primarily as it feels like it’s going somewhere. It manages to juggle the events of the other Bat-titles as well as tell its own story, which given the complexities of the Bat Family, is no mean feat. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the title long term – can you really have a book called Batman and Robin without a Robin? – but I’m quite happy to enjoy where this grim and moody take on a grieving Batman goes for now.

Avengers #11, Jonathan Hickman, Mike Deodato, Marvel (Mark)

For all the praise that’s previously been heaped upon Hickman’s Image work in this column, he doesn’t half push his luck when it comes to superheroes. I stopped picking up this book’s sister title New Avengers after issue three when I realised that, along with being unable to justify overpaying for two Avengers comics every month, NA was really just telling a different version of the group-of-powerful-men-decide-the-world’s-fate story Hickman is so fond of and telling much more coherently in Manhattan Projects.

With this issue of the ostensibly more straightforward series centring on the recently expanded Avengers *ahem* franchise Hickman and Deodato take us to a Hong Kong fight movie by way of Ocean’s 11 as a team of lesser-known (but still, I’d imagine, world famous) heroes infiltrates a casino in order to get their hands on a secret new weapon the villain community is clamouring for. J-Hix simultaneously goes for big laughs – Cannonball and Sunspot get drunk with a bunch of AIM henchmen, Black Widow wants to hurt people a lot – and super-serious interior monologues from Shang-Chi (Master of Kung Fu, don’tcha know) as he fights poorly defined bad guys in unnecessarily intercut action scenes for most of the issue. The last page tangentially ties this story into the overall plot of the series but I can’t help feeling that this issue was an opportunity for a fun, throwaway comic ruined by Jonathan Hickman’s need to have REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS happen every five minutes.

Über #1, Kieron Gillen, Canaan White, Avatar (Mark)

And speaking of important stories: here are a bunch of Nazis with superpowers rewriting history in Gillen & White’s WWII revision. The opening splash page depicts Hitler struggling with a gun in his mouth on the eve of his defeat and suicide in Berlin in April 1945, but the following scenes not only show the Führer being prevented from offing himself but also set up the series’ conflict – that of a desperate but still immeasurably powerful Germany versus resourceful Brits and ragged Russian POWs, specifically a spy who’s just blown her cover (and her “panzermensch” escort) and a captured sniper respectively.

Über definitely has the feel of a good war comic; some grand ideas are in there and are enough to make the story compelling and fresh but at the same time Gillen is careful to ground the story in reality as much as he can so we don’t forget that a lot of this (aside from the laser-eyed-aryans) isn’t too far removed from truth. I’m certainly looking forward to the the rest of the series, especially if White’s art remains as impressively detailed and expressive as it is in issue #1 (seriously, that first shot of Adolf is something to behold).

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Season 9 #21, Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty. Dark Horse (Mark)

I’m going to put this briefly, because readers of this comic are divided into those who read all of it and those who read none: if you’ve been reading Season 9, you’ll know that Buffy has been regularly disappointing, especially in comparison with its far superior sister book Angel & Faith. Well, #21 is a long overdue step in the right direction as disparate plot elements come together, the core cast return to their rightful places and the final showdown of the season looms ahead. It ain’t perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than we’ve been getting before now. All else are spoilers, unfortunately…

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